What even is therapy, anyway?

I’m so ensconced in the mental health field that I sometimes forget that world isn’t as familiar to the general population. And while talking about counseling and mental health challenges is becoming more common, there still are a lot of misconceptions, hesitations, or curiosity about what being “in therapy” actually looks like.

For example, the couch. The infamous Freudian couch that for a long time dominated people’s mind when they thought of therapy. Does it still exist? The couch does, yes. But for a HUGE majority of therapists, the couch is a comfortable place for the client to sit. Your therapist usually sits across from you, in an equally comfortable chair. You’re facing each other during the session and frequently, the therapist isn’t even taking notes.

Another example: the sessions are going to be dominated by exploring your childhood. Not necessarily. The amount of time spent exploring your childhood will largely depend on the reasons you’re going to counseling and the approach to therapy your counselor uses. It is likely childhood will come up at least somewhat, because there’s a lot to be said about nature and nurture influencing your thought and behavior patterns, but you’re not “doomed” to spending all your time reflecting on how much “I love you” was said when you were 5 years old.

Misplaced fear: my therapist is going to think I am so weird. AND he/she is going to talk to friends/family about all the “crazy stuff” they hear in my sessions. NOPE!
Counselors are literally trained to have empathy at the center of the therapeutic relationship. They are trained in understanding human behavior so actually, a lot of stuff you might think is “weird”, they might think makes sense in the context of your life.

And, as far as talking to other people about you, they can’t! Legally and ethically counselors are bound to keep the content of sessions in that very therapy room. There are some exceptions to this (threat of harm to self or others, suspicions of abuse or neglect, court order/subpoena, professional supervision) , but everything else? Confidential!

Hesitation: I’m going to cry all the time in therapy. Honest truth: if you are a very emotional person and the topic that brings you to therapy is emotional, there’s a chance you’ll cry in sessions. But guess what? There are tissues a-plenty in every therapist’s office and therapists aren’t uncomfortable about seeing you cry and you won’t be the first person they’ll have seen cry in a session. In other words: it’s normal and okay to cry! It’s also normal if you don’t cry—not everyone uses tears as an expression of emotion OR uses counseling for reasons that are very emotional.

Which brings me to: if it’s NOT any of these things, what is it anyway? Therapy is a safe space between you and a trained professional to help you remove obstacles in your life so you can move forward in a healthy and positive way. You can use therapy for anything from coping with depression to learning how to move forward after you’ve lost someone to evaluating how to make a change in your life such as a career switch. Maybe none of that is taking place but you just feel like something is happening inside of you and you want some help identifying that. Perhaps you have a habit you want to break or a new habit you want to form. Maybe you recognize that you could be healthier and happier if someone can just help you with new thought patterns. Maybe you just moved to a new city, went back to school as an adult, had kids move out of the house, are pregnant for the first time, can’t get pregnant at all, just got a health diagnosis that is hard to handle, moved a parent into a skilled facility, have teenagers that make you feel like you are losing your marbles, have toddlers that make you feel like you are losing your marbles…..sensing a pattern? It can be any number of one of those things, combination of those things, or something I didn’t list at all……

The point is: therapy is a safe place where the time is all about YOU, with an objective partner on the journey with you.

The partner is a trained professional. There to listen to you, hold you accountable when appropriate, challenge you when appropriate, and support you. And did I mention, it’s all about you? 😉

If there are other questions, hesitations, or curiosities I missed, feel to drop a comment and I’ll do my best to answer!

Talk to you soon!

*Disclaimer: this is a basic overview of therapy is a whole, and not about all of the nuances of the process.*